Written by Jon L, published by me. Enjoy -- Scott
I don't think we linked to it before, but I want to talk about D-League President Dan Reed's latest "Reed and Write," in which he lists his top 10 NBA playoff performers who used to play in the D-League. The contributions of former D-League players probably got more attention in the previous round, with Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen both playing significant roles, for the Denver Nuggets, but both the Lakers and Magic (along with several other playoff teams) have some key contributors who saw D-League time.
Before I say what I found interesting about Reed's list, here it is without comments:
Notice anything? Eight of those ten players are guards. Seeing that got me to thinking about whether guards and wing players have an easier time making the NBA from the D-League or prove to be bigger contributors once they get there. Here are some of the other significant playoff contributors who spent some time in the D-League: Jordan Farmar, Mikki Moore, Brandon Bass, Chuck Hayes, Jamario Moon, Daequan Cook, Louis Williams, C.J. Miles. (And there are a few arguments to be made about players included/excluded from Reed's list, most notably to me Chuck Hayes, who probably had a bigger impact on his team than Shannon Brown has had on his, but that's not really related to the discussion here). Again, there are a few big men but mostly guards and small forwards (which is what I consider Bass).
There are a few questions involved in this. First, are guards/wings more likely to make the NBA out of the D-League? Second, if they're not more likely, do they at least make a greater contribution to their teams than big men? And third, and more generally, do NBA teams assign more guards and wings to their D-League affiliates than big men? We'll take a deeper look at these issues after the jump.
Taking the first question first (obviously), let's look at this past season's call-ups. It's not necessarily the best measure, since all of the players Reed mentioned haven't played in the D-League in at least a season and there have been players who go from the D-League to the NBA without being an official call-up (by making a team during Summer League/training camp, for instance; Hamed Haddadi also wasn't an official call-up, but looks to make some significant contributions in Memphis), but we'll do it to get a rough sense of the current data.
There were 20 different players who received "Gatorade Call-ups" this past season. For the sake of space I'm not going to name them all, but by position they breakdown to nine guards, four wing players (including Marcus Williams, who's essentially become a point guard but who will probably play point-forward), and seven big men (power forwards/centers). Of course, most of those players were sent back to the D-League, though of those who stuck and/or signed contracts that give them a shot at Summer League and training camp, there were more guards/wings (Marcus Williams, Dontell Jefferson, Shaun Livingston, DeMarcus Nelson, Jawad Williams, Trey Johnson) then there were big men (Pops Mensah-Bonsu the second time in Toronto, Chris Hunter, Saer Sene). The split was even more pronounced in the 2007-2008 season, when, by my count, 15 of the 18 players called up from the D-League were guards or wing players. The one player who stuck in the NBA from that season was guard CJ Watson, though there are a few others who were called up again this season and may have shots at making rosters.
As for my second question, whether guards and wing players make greater contributions to their NBA teams than big men, let's go back to the list of players called up this past season. The only player who really made an immediate, significant contribution was Pops Mensah-Bonsu, with Toronto in his second NBA call-up. However, looking at the long-term outlook, there are many more guards and wings who were called up and signed NBA contracts, and who have a real shot on seeing NBA playing time next season. The list includes Dontell Jefferson, Marcus Williams, James White, Shaun Livingston, Trey Johnson and Quincy Douby, as well as players with a not-quite-as-good-but-still-possible shot like DeMarcus Williams, Malik Hairston, Jawad Williams. The list of big men who could possibly contribute in the NBA next year is pretty much down to Mensah-Bonsu, Chris Hunter and Courtney Sims (and Jermareo Davidston if we're being generous). (Somewhat separately, Pistons power forward Amir Johnson is considered a former D-Leaguer even though he really only spent a handful of games there as an assignee, but it may be worth noting that at one time it looked like he might become a force in the NBA, but he disappeared this season.)
As for whether teams are less likely to send a big man down to the D-League, I believe the data is somewhat mixed. Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry recently admitted that some of Alexis Ajinca's problems could have come from lack of playing time, and that sending him to the D-League would have been beneficial. The Washington Wizards have had raw big man Oleksiy Pecherov on their roster for a few seasons now, and he hasn't really shown any development. Earlier this season an article was written quoting a team official as saying that Pecherov probably should've gotten some D-League time, but because of the team's injury situation, the coaches were afraid that sending players to Dakota would mean they wouldn't have enough guys to run practice. However, Memphis kept Javaris Crittenton on their NBA bench without giving him any playing time while they tried to decide between Mike Conley Jr. and Kyle Lowry, when sending him to the D-League certainly would've been a good idea. There's also the case of Utah, for whom two of the three players they assigned to the D-League this past season were centers.
Since I've asked questions, I should probably come up with answers. It seems pretty clear that NBA teams are more accepting (for lack of a better term) of guards and small forwards who come from the D-League than they are of big men. If I had to guess, I'd say this is due to the gradual shift over the last several seasons towards a more guard- or perimeter-oriented NBA, in several areas. As the point guard position increases in importance, teams will spend more time looking for an effective backup or even starter. As more teams come to embrace three pointers as an efficient shot, they'll need more three-point shooters. And as more teams use a perimeter player as the focal point of their offense, their opponents will need to find more wing defenders to try and shut them down.